AMES (AP) — Iowa State knew it was bringing in some much-needed energy when it made Matt Campbell the nation’s youngest Power Five coach.
Campbell has provided the Cyclones with an unmistakable spark in his first few months in Ames.
The 36-year-old wrapped up his first series of workouts Saturday with the program’s annual spring game. The scrimmage brought out a relatively sizable crowd of over 15,000 eager to see what Campbell had been working on since taking over a team that went 3-9 last season.
“He’s an electric guy. He turned the program around at Toledo and he’s trying to turn us around. He knows what he’s doing,” quarterback Joel Lanning said. “We’re all just excited for the season and taking it one step at a time with him.”
Though former coach Paul Rhoads was and continues to be a popular figure in Ames, a change at the top was inevitable after a collapse at Kansas State late in 2015 that capped yet another disappointing season.
Campbell, who went 35-15 at Toledo, has yet to do anything to suggest the Cyclones made a mistake in hiring such a young guy.
Campbell’s first major win came on signing day, when he brought in Iowa State’s highest-rated class in recent memory despite having just a few months to do so. Campbell also has the Cyclones ranked among the likes of UCLA, Michigan State and Auburn in the early stages of the recruiting cycle for 2017, suggesting that he might finally be the coach that can overcome Iowa State’s historic lack of a recruiting footprint.
Campbell has also tried to reconnect former players with the program. He brought back past stars like Seneca Wallace, Sage Rosenfels and A.J. Klein, now with the Carolina Panthers, as coaches for Saturday’s scrimmage.
“This spring, I saw a lot of guys buying in and trying to work hard, because we think we can go to a good place with coach Campell and his staff. They’ve bought into what he believes in,” wide receiver Trever Ryen said.
Of course, much of the enthusiasm surrounding the Cyclones will vanish if they drop the season opener to Northern Iowa on Sept. 3.
But Rhoads said Iowa State had enough talent to reach a bowl game this fall in his final press conference — and he might have been right.
Running back Mike Warren and wide receiver Allen Lazard, who didn’t play Saturday after fracturing his right hand in practice, could be among the best at their positions in the Big 12 next season. The Cyclones also return nine starters on defense, a key in a league with so many high-scoring offenses.
Iowa State’s shot at a bowl bid in 2015 will likely come down to how quickly Campbell and his staff can cobble together an offensive line. The Cyclones lost a combined 111 starts along its line.
“We’ve got pieces. We’ve got makeup,” Campbell said. “It takes a mentally tough, physically tough guy to (play offensive line) every day, and I see the beginning phases of that.”